“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally,” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn, credited as the founder of modern day Mindfulness.
Most of us have tons of examples of mindlessness. It is arriving at a destination, by car, and realizing you don’t remember a darn thing about how you got there. It is all those moment when we are missing in action and completely not present in our lives. We are, during those mindless times, on auto pilot and being unaware of our lives, not paying attention to messages our body has for us, and listening to really yucky toxic conversations in our heads that are full of judgment and criticism about ourselves, our past or our future.
I am constantly reminded how much Creativity, Art and Mindfulness goes hand in hand. When I was a child I was always being accused of being “too caught up in things”. Maybe some of you can relate. LOL. What that meant to those around me was that I would be, in their opinion, totally off in LaLa land. What was really going on was that I was totally involved with whatever I was observing, imagining or creating at the moment and in the moment – the movement in the clouds, the sounds around me, the colors of the grass or a crayon drawing I was doing. My Lala land was actually me being uber present.
My world was rich with color and texture and filled with awe. I was awake, aware and completely in the now. I had a never-ending sense of wonder and I felt very connected to life, nature, animals, plants, people and something much more expansive than I was. I was alive. I never could figure out, at a young age, why this was a bad thing … but those around me thought it was or so it seemed.
I, on the other hand, began to notice and was rather fascinated by how the people who accused me of being in Lala land were rather robotic as they repeated actions over and over and zipped around with their eyes glassed over. They occurred, to me, as totally unaware of, and missing out on, the marvelous rich world around them that I was experiencing. I had my own little giggle about My Lala land vs. their Lala land. I prefered mine, of course, and stuck with it.
This wonder and connection … my LaLa land … was always being expressed through drawing, painting, writing, making music, dancing and building things … Art … any form of Art that I could represent and express it with and through. And in the act of creating I was just as present as I was when I witnessed the things that inspired me to express them.
Not a lot has changed in the 50+ years that have passed. I look back and now and know that I was being mindful. I was aware of everything. My mindfulness sparked creativity, and then I created … which sparked more mindfulness. It was a beautiful circle. Today it is still true for me. I bring my self into a creative state of self-expression, if I am not in one, through many mindfulness practices … meditation, yoga, journaling, time in nature, observing my breath, etc.
When I am creating I too am still mindful and connected to something bigger than me. I am, in both cases, open and creativity flows out of me. It comes out in many ways … through a photograph, a painting, a poem … even the creative conversations I have. Mindfulness is not a passive act. My LaLa land, it now seems, is very productive!!
I become so inspired when I talk to artists about mindfulness. Some of them have always had this connection between creating and mindfulness like I did. Some of them began creating and making Art, later in life, because of a mindfulness practice that called them into the quietness of themselves and had them discover their creative core. Either way most artists know, to some degree, this experience of their Inner Self and Source being a part of their work. I think of Art as mindfulness in full-out action.
Numerous studies have now been done that prove that a mindfulness practice such as meditation quiets the mind and in that quietness there is room for new ideas and creativity. In the Netherlands researchers found a direct impact on creativity from of mindfulness. They concluded, through meditation experiments, that mindfulness induces divergent thinking, a style of thinking that allows many new ideas of being generated, and stops sustaining convergent thinking or the process of generating only one possible solution to a particular problem.
Another study published by Greenberg, Reiner, and Meiran in PLoS One determined that mindfulness practices reduce cognitive rigidity (a reduced tendency to overlook novel and adaptive ways of responding due to past experience) and decreases ruminating.
The studies published consistently show that as artists our creativity may require not just stimulation but also the opposite of stimulation to thrive. “Mindfulness helps you to build what I call ‘mind strength,’ ” says Ron Alexander, a therapist and meditation teacher who worked with Disney’s Imagineers (their creative design and development team). This mind strength contributes to an Artist’s ability to freely create.
Are there benefits to mindfulness for an Artist? YES! There have been 1000+ published documents reflecting the psychological and medical research on mindfulness, which prove its validity in many different applications, but here are just a few of the benefits that I think directly pertains to us as Artists:
- Ability to recognize, slow down or stop automatic and habitual (auto-pilot) reactions.
- Improves your mental, emotional and social intelligence while increasing your compassion and empathy.
- Ability to respond more effectively to complex or difficult situations.
- Reduces stress and increases happiness.
- Ability to see situations with more clarity.
- Become more open and, therefore, more creative.
- Achieve balance, confidence and emotional resilience in your life.
So what defines mindfulness? Here are the 5 basic factors that most researchers say mindfulness is comprised of:
- Not being reactive to inner experiences such as our feeling and emotions
- Observing any and all (both pleasant, neutral and unpleasant) sensations, perceptions and thoughts
- Acting with awareness and concentration vs. on automatic pilot and distracted
- Describing and labeling beliefs, opinions and expectations with words
- Being nonjudgmental of experiences, feelings or emotions
Get trapped in the autopilot and it keeps you from creativity? Want to wake up from the autopilot and take control back whenever you want to? Are there some basic steps you can use in being mindful? YES!
- Consciously and deliberately direct your attention on whatever you are doing at any given moment.
- Becoming aware of what you are doing and thinking – with your body, your mind and your energy – right now and now and now, etc..
- Bringing yourself back to this moment when you find your attention on some worry/concern or self-criticism/ judgment about the past (which can be a nano-second ago) or the future.
- Being aware of the difference between the actual experience you are having and your reaction to it
- Observing your thoughts vs. making your thoughts wrong, suppressing them, or having to label them (good thoughts, bad thoughts, etc.).
The great news is that mindfulness can be learned and on-goingly evolved. Mindfulness is for everyone. It is not religion based and there is no necessary religious component to mindfulness (although it can be utilized in religious or spiritual practices). Donald Hebb, a Canadian psychologist, created the phrase “neurones that fire together, wire together”. To say it more simply, practice with mindfulness allows us to develop neuro-pathways in the brain associated with being mindful, which make it easier and easier to be fully in the present moment.
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Mindfulness is not about getting anywhere else — it’s about being where you are and knowing it. We are talking about awareness itself: a whole repertoire of ways of knowing that virtually all come through the senses.”
Mindfulness is about being with things as they are vs. thinking you can control the universe, and allows you to then expand your full potential with wisdom and balance. It heals resignation and/or trying to escape from this moment the way it actually is. It is not narcissistic but rather an interconnection with all of life and with an oneness of being. Mindfulness involves living your life like it matters (because it does).
Bottom line: Mindfulness practices can be a contributor to creativity and a result of creating. A key component to artistic creation is simply getting one’s ‘self’ out of the way so that creativity can flow through us. You can achieve mindfulness through meditation or any form of being present to the current moment such as focusing on the breath. In “creative mindfulness” engaging in a specific creative activity such as drawing, painting or creative writing can facilitate mindfulness.
Engaged, present, in discovery mode, curious, and experiencing now… it is that awe experience of childhood. It is the moment of oneness with just you and the paint or the image or the sound or the movement. So whether you are looking for a way to take your creativity to the next level through traditional mindfulness practices or you are looking to create more mindfulness in your life through Art, allow yourself the gift of experimenting with combining these two.
I am clear that my childhood-labeled Lala land is actually the place I choose to reside in vs. that of being on auto-pilot. Since I am calling my own shots, I will continue to evolve my levels of mindfulness and expand my Lala land day-by-day, moment-by-moment and creation-by-creation.
If you are already involved in mindfulness practices and/or experience your Art as a form of mindfulness then I celebrate that with you. For any of you who have not seen it that way, then I offer you a welcome hand to join me in creating mindfulness in your life and through your Art. The more the merrier.
I giggle at the thought of us as Artists (who others may label as being out there in Lala land) not only being present and awake and aware ourselves, but also as active catalysts of taking this planet to it’s next level of evolution through our own awareness. I think we have always been the leaders of evolution so we might as well be out about it.
How do you incorporate mindfulness from your life into your Art and from your Art into your life?
I’d love to hear from you about your experiences with mindfulness and creativity and Art. I am sure each of you has something to share with all of us that could contribute to us. Please feel free to do so!!!
When in the process of creating I give my mind a vacation.
Constance – I love that!!
As a teenager I found solace in lying under trees and meditating on the spaces and patterns between the twigs and branches. I still find this kind of activity, in any natural environment, calming and know that when I am totally immersed in my art work it is a similar state of mind I am in, where it is very difficult to know what time has passed.
Danielle – Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I could get your world from your description. We really can transport ourselves there any time we want with nature & art can’t we? How fabulous is that … the timeless place!